Genre: Role-Playing Game
Format: Digital download
Developer/Publisher: Overhaul Games (from the Bioware original)
Minimum System Requirements: OS X, 512 MB, dual-core processor, 1.8 Gb of disk space
Review Computer: 13″ Macbook Pro (2009)
Network Feature: Yes (multiplayer)
Availability: Out now
Getting a game fifteen years after its initial release is nothing new for longtime Mac users, who were used to passing the time between “new” games by playing Mario Teaches Typing and reading stories about Mac game companies going out of business. What’s odd is when we get a new version of a game that was released on the Mac fifteen years ago, and was one of the great computer role-playing games. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, already released for the iPad, is now available for OS X.
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a role-playing game that runs on the second edition rules for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (published in 1989), so already we’re chin-deep in the geek swamp here. Combat, character classes, equipment, and level advancement are all based on the paper-and-pencil system. Very little of the actual game has been changed; the graphics are delightfully retro and the central challenge remains. The “enhancements” of the edition come from the inclusion of a new game set in the realm of the drow (“The Black Pit”), expanded classes, subclasses, races, and an increased level cap, along with new party members.
And you’ll need all the help you can get because Baldur’s Gate is still just as challenging as it was in 1998. After rolling up a character (yes, you really go through the 2nd ed. D&D character creation process), you’re dropped into a world where your orphaned adventurer is being hunted down by an evil conspiracy. Combat, especially in the early stages, can quickly turn deadly, and enemies get off blows that can kill teammates or your character. And if you die, you’ll have to restart the adventure from your last save point, which may have been hours ago.
In true D&D fashion, you also have to keep track of a lot of things other than how good your gear is, because not only do your characters have to rest, but the clock is ticking on other parts of your adventure as well. Need to rescue one of your companion’s friends from a Gnoll stronghold? He’ll start to complain that you’re taking too long and will leave if you don’t hurry up. Indeed, group management becomes an issue as you try to build a strong party and keep everyone happy. The Half-Orc blackguard is a strong fighter, but also wholly evil, and letting him join will alienate others against you. Certain characters will only stay in your party if another member is present, meaning you’ll be losing two characters you’ve spent a lot of time leveling up. But if you change your mind, you can usually find them later and ask them to rejoin you. If you choose, you can also romance your party members for some low-resolution romance.
But these challenges are all good things, and are part of what makes Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition a lot of fun to play if you’re into old school RPG neepery. In addition to the main plot that propels you across the continent to discover why a mysterious warlord wants you dead (and why every time you walk into an Inn, you should expect a fight), there are lots of sidequests and odd jobs you can take that will enhance or destroy your character’s reputation in the world. Become a hero with a high reputation and stores will offer you discounts and people will sing your praises. Choose to become a villain and the city guard will attack you every time you try to enter a town.
In terms of gameplay, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition mixes turn-based and real-time strategy elements. The clock is always running, but you can pause it to give orders to everyone in your party. Unpause the clock, and they’ll take action, and repeat it for as long as they’re able. Tell your fighter to kill a kobold, and they’ll keep swinging as long as there’s one within sword’s reach, but mages will only cast a spell once, then stand there until you give them a command. The characters have no intelligence of their own; if you don’t tell them to attack or move, they won’t (unless they panic in battle and run off, uncontrollable, on their own). In addition to their basic combat abilities, characters also have class-based abilities, like the thief’s skills in detecting traps and picking locks, or a berserker’s rage that turns him into an effective but chaotic killing machine. Keeping track of all your characters in a battle and knowing when to pause and change their commands will make the difference between victory and death.
Despite its retro graphics, Baldur’s Gate: the Enhanced Edition remains a challenging and fun game for the RPG enthusiast. Its sprawling story and rich characters combined with an effective, strategic combat system make for a satisfying experience. You’ll spend time building a party of characters you can care about, while carefully exploring every corner of the map, looking for monsters and treasure. All that’s missing is the graph paper and the two liter bottle of Mountain Dew.
Buy Baldur’s Gate: the Enhanced Edition